It's been well over a decade since we journeyed through Kamigawa block. While it's popularly regarded as a failure—both from Wizards of the Coast's own metrics and legacy of mechanics players enjoy—it's still been a font of ideas we've revisited since.
"Legendary creatures matter?" Dominaria.
"Spirits and Humans matter?" Tribal themes in both Innistrad and Shadows over Innistrad blocks.
"White-aligned villain and a black-aligned hero?" The Gatewatch and Kaladesh block got us most of the way back there.
And while I've never heard many be fond of mechanics like sweep or epic (desperate Enduring Ideal decks aside) there's one that's stayed propped up by pop culture and deep flavor: ninjutsu.
Which is why sharing Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow is so sweet.
Thanks to some help from DJ at Jumbo Commander—a seriously awesome Commander YouTube channel that we're proud to support—a really rough deck was mocked up. Jon Corpora's Pretty Deece take on the deck covers the main thrusts of what it does, so watch the video above for the flavor (and tight take) of what's going on.
Commander ninjutsu is awesome. Abilities that let you dodge "the commander tax" are best on creatures that want to tangle in combat. It's part of the power of Derevi, Empyrial Tactician: You can't just kill it to get away from it.
Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow works the same way with a twist: You need an attacking, unblocked creature to pull it off. That's why there's a few creatures like Dimir Infiltrator, Neurok Invisimancer (Reusable!) and everyone's favorite Innistrad Limited all-star Invisible Stalker in the deck: You needs ways to keep attacking to keep Yuriko in play.
Adding in all the other (good) Ninjas ensures you can ninjutsu for other effects and pile up attacked with Ninjas when Yuriko is around. Seriously: hitting with three or your Ninjas is a ton of cards in your hand and damage out to everyone else—attacking the weakest player without blockers but pummeling the stronger player with direct damage ads up fast in a game. Value creatures like Vendilion Clique and Baleful Strix make the most of Arcane Adaptation effects too.
The deck really is all-in on attacking for the win. The downside is that everyone can see Yuriko coming from the first turn. Ninjustu is exciting because opponents don't see it coming. "No blocks? Ok, pay two and ninjutsu Ninja of the Deep Hours." is something I love in my Pauper cube. In commander, wherever you point an unblockable (or won't be blocked) creature the opponent knows what's coming.
Since it's not a surprise factor so you want some other ways to force through damage, hence all the great equipment. Ninjutsu might be expected, but punching in with a Ronin Warclub, Sword of Fire and Ice, Quietus Spike and Lightning Greaves hurts far worse. From playing aggressive Rakdos commanders in the past, attacking early and taking some risks is needed to win. You won't win waiting to set up the perfect attack. You won't find the right answers with your next draw step. (The tutors in this deck combo with Yuriko since you can tutor, attack, ninjutsu, dome everyone for 10 off Commit // Memory.) But you can pump out damage, if you're brave enough to take a little back in kind.
If you can't attack with creatures and you can't ninjustu Yuriko, then you're just kinda stuck. There's no combo or backup plan to the "turn 'em sideways" path to victory, but digging with Dig Through Time, resetting with Living Death or copying something great with Phyrexian Metamorph can help you angle your way out.
As a quick mashup of on-theme effects with a heavy focus on combat, this kind of commander and deck won't suit everyone—and definitely needs to be tuned up after playing with your friends a few times. Here's some obvious angles to explore.
Vela, the Night-Clad pairs will be bouncing creatures in and out of play. While I'm firmly against how obnoxious an unanswered Deadeye Navigator is, the ability to sidestep having to attack to bounce creatures around opens up all sorts of new ideas. Looping creatures with Cloudstone Curio or kickstarting an Intruder Alarm combo all benefit from the reset bounce commander ninjutsu can do.
Najeela, the Blade-Blossom is another way to go with Yuriko. Instead of being the commander, slipping our Ninja into a Najeela deck means we can set up even more powerful Arcane Adaptation (or Artificial Evolution if we're feeling really spicy) shenanigans. Extra attacks plus extra cards plus extra damage? That's the kind of aggressive deck I can get behind—as DJ from Jumbo Commander covered what's possible with Najeela a month ago:
Ultimately, for myself, building and playing with Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow is the only way I'm going to really push through what works and doesn't, but I'll take all the advice I can get from the crowd. Thanks in advance!